ELN agrees temporary ceasefire with Colombian government

19/09/2017

Temporary ceasefire agreed for first time in 50 years

On 4 September a temporary ceasefire was agreed between the Colombian government and National Liberation Army (ELN) for the first time in more than 50 years of insurgency. The ceasefire will begin on 1 October and last until 12 January. The ELN is reported to have around 1,500 fighters and a large network of political activists around the world. It has traditionally used illegal activities such as kidnapping, extortion and drug trafficking to finance its military offensive against the state.

Unlike the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) which signed a peace agreement with the government in June 2016, the ELN have been resistant to negotiate a ceasefire and previously used peace negotiations as a mechanism to advance militarily. Prior to the agreement, the ELN had recently expanded its militancy activity, moving into areas historically controlled by the FARC, kidnapping military officers and politicians, and recruiting former FARC members.

Previously, numerous reasons have hindered the signing of a peace agreement with the ELN. In addition to the radical ideology of members who perceive the conflict as an element of a larger political aim, the ELN is well-known for having a diffused chain of command that requires decisions to be made by consensus among different high-level committees. In contrast, the FARC was a hierarchical and pragmatic military organisation that changed strategy after it became evident they would not be able to win.

Demobilisation of the FARC has led to a greater focus on the ELN

The successful demobilisation of the FARC and its incorporation as a political party will have led the ELN to reconsider the viability of its long-term strategy. Firstly, with no FARC activity preoccupying the Colombian Army, the ELN has found it difficult to avoid government offensives. The end of the FARC conflict has allowed the government to redirect military units to confront the ELN and other armed groups. Secondly, with only one year before the end of President Santos’ term, and the political polarisation in Colombia, there are no guarantees a new president elected in 2018 would be supportive of a deal with the ELN, particularly not one as generous as the one agreed with the FARC.